The Magisterium: The Transcript of Part 3 of a Series of Homilies on Tradition Given by Fr. Ripperger

This content is taken from a series of sermons given by Fr. Chad Ripperger on Sacred Tradition and it is transcribed here by Tony Capobianco.

Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino (1481-82) . Location: Sistine Chapel Collection. This work is in the public domain. {{ PD-US }}

Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino (1481-82) . Location: Sistine Chapel Collection. This work is in the public domain. {{PD-US}}

Permission to transcribe Father’s lecture was sought and permission was granted. The copyright remains that of Sensus Traditionis.

© 2019, Fr. Chad Ripperger - All Rights Reserved. © Sensus Traditionis 

Fr. Ripperger  0:03

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Sacred Tradition in the true and Catholic sense is the Regula Fidei or the Rule of Faith. The concept of Tradition as merely a human deed or only the preaching of Christ and the Apostles who alone have Christ’s authority is contrary to the teaching of the Church. Here a distinction of Object of Faith and the Rule of Faith must be made. The Object of Faith is the truth to be believed. This is the thing that we must believe in order to be saved. The Rule is that which contains the truth to be believed and to which we must conform ourselves. In other words the Sacred Tradition is the Rule of Faith or a standard. In other words, we know what we believe, or what should be believed as a standard based upon this Rule. So that's Tradition, because if one wants to know what the Faith believes that's the Object, the thing that we have to believe about, he looks to Tradition; that is what the Magisterium has passed on and taught to us. So if you recall Tradition, the definition of Tradition is the passing on of the Deposit of Faith and those things that are connected to it to the subsequent generations by the Magisterium. So that's the essence of Tradition. So ultimately, the Magisterium is passing on the Object of Faith constitutes the Rule. In other words, if I want to know what I believe, or what I should  believe, it is ultimately the Magisterium to which I have to conform myself and to what the Magisterium teaches. This is why the Tradition is always the principle of judgment for what is to be believed. Always the principle of judgment. 

Fr. Ripperger  1:41

Those who wish to reject the Tradition and wish to stop passing on the Deposit of Faith, act contrary to Christ’s mandate, as I mentioned in the last homily, “Go and teach all that I have told you.” However we're not talking just about what has been taught or what  can be clarified and ruled on by the Magisterium since that also is part of the Tradition. This is one of the reasons why distinctions within Tradition are so important in order to understand this, but  the thing to get out of this first observation is this: The standard of rule is not your emotions. It's not how you think. It's not what you think. It's not what you believed about what happened in the past. It’s about the reality of what has always been passed on by the Church to us.

Fr. Ripperger  2:22

This means that the standard for what you are to believe is not how you feel about it, it's not something inside of you. It’s not your thinking. It's something external to you to which you must conform to, if you're going to be authentically called a Catholic. You know, we  use the term traditionalist, but when in point and fact we should just say Catholic, because an authentic Catholic Faith is simply one that conforms itself to the authentic teachings of the Magisterium. Of course it becomes a bit complicated with certain members of the Magisterium which are teaching things that are a little off. But we'll address that a little bit later, but the point to gather out of this is that you are not the standard. How you feel is not the standard. What you think is not the standard. It’s what the Magisterium proposes for belief that is the standard which you must believe if you're going to be saved.

Fr. Ripperger  3:10

So distinctions, you have to make some distinctions then because within Tradition there are some things that can be changed and some things that cannot. And even with the things that can be changed, some observations should be made. The Sacred Tradition as a Rule of Faith is always prior to Scripture in the order of knowledge and comprehension because it is the Tradition that constitutes the means by which Scripture is interpreted. If you want to know how a particular passage is to be interpreted, we go to the Tradition.

Fr. Ripperger  3:43

The Magisterium, which is part of the Tradition has the right to determine and not to make up, but actually specify and clarify the true meaning of Scripture. A.) Because the magisterium was given the authority, that is rights over it and commanded to teach on Christ's behalf. B.) It was also given as an infallible charism to avoid error regarding the interpretation of Scripture. So If you want to know what it really says, you go to those who have the proper authority.

Fr. Ripperger  4:12

Next, it wrote Scripture, that is the New Testament. The Apostles are the first Magisterium. Next, as mentioned, Tradition is temporally prior to Scripture, since the Apostles knew what to write before they wrote it. Hence, Tradition is prior  to Scripture in the order of knowledge and comprehension since part of Tradition was put to writing, which we call Scripture. And so if one wants to know what Scriptures mean, look at the Tradition from whence it came, that is its cause.

Fr. Ripperger  4:45

So historically, if you look at it, Christ came and preached. The Apostles preached for about 23 years. The first New Testament writings began to appear about year 56, which is 23 years after Christ, roughly. So you actually have a scenario where the first tradition, where the first generation had no written word. Now, the Protestants say “Sola Scriptura”, well that is just nonsense. We’ll see why that is later but  that meant that the first generation after Christ could never be saved. And that's just nonsense. It would be true of  many subsequent generations because most people didn’t know how to read. Cardinal Billot makes the observation that it’s not in Scripture but in Tradition that the revealed doctrine was deposited. Christ came and passed on. It was through an act of Tradition. And through the Apostles it was through an act of Tradition that what we must believe was given, not in the Scripture  first.

Fr. Ripperger  5:45

This falls from the fact that the Apostles were given a teaching prior to its being written. Scripture is in the Deposit of Faith, which is given by God to man. So even when it is written, so in other words you have the Tradition, some of it gets written, that’s called Scripture. It is first in the Apostles who wrote it, who  passed it on and in other words God communicated to the Apostle, this is what is to be written. So there's already a passing on from God to the Apostle first interiorly by means and then it's written. The written word is also part of  Tradition in the broad sense, which we'll be talking about a little bit later. This isn't to denigrate Tradition, it’s to make clear that Tradition in Scripture has a particular role in the Tradition. It's a part of the Tradition and it's part of the Tradition because of the fact that Tradition was passed by means of it. But it became an important thing for human beings to have something specific written down in order to have clarity about certain teachings for us.

Fr. Ripperger  6:46

The Magisterium has authority to propose and explicate, that is to make clear, that which it deems necessary to believe as  coming from the revelation of the Apostles. As a result the Magisterium becomes the proximate and immediate Rule of Faith. So The proximate rule, if I want to know what I'm supposed to believe you look at the Magisterium and what the Magisterium is teaching and that’s the Pope and the Bishops generally and that's what you're supposed to believe since it passes on the teaching as the official organ of Tradition. In other words if  one wants to know what to believe, you just look at the Magisterium.

Fr. Ripperger  7:13

The Tradition of the Catholic Faith is complex however. The Tradition of the Catholic Church is complex and errors occur in discussions of the Tradition because of a failure to make adequate distinctions. And this is a serious problem amongst traditionalists, not just the laity but the clergy as well. It’s across the board. It's a serious problem. You know, people will hold on tenaciously to something that could legitimately be changed. On the other hand stuff that shouldn't be changed.... they’re you know, letting it loose. A lot of times a lot of traditionalists will just say, “Well if it's part of the past then it's all on the same level.” And that's not how it works.

Fr. Ripperger  7:58

There's a certain hierarchy and there are certain levels, different levels within Tradition. And so there are different ways to actually distinguish it within Tradition. The first is by reason of its author. The first kind of author is a divine author, that’s God, and for this reason divinely authored Tradition is distinguished between Dominical and Apostolic. Dominical Tradition which comes from the word Dominus which means Lord, the Dominical Tradition constitutes those things which Christ Himself orally taught, because Christ Himself never wrote anything down. I mean there is this indication that he scribbled in the sand at one point and people ask, what did he write?” Well, obviously it’s not that important because it didn't make it into Scripture or into the Tradition.

Fr. Ripperger  8:40

The teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the precepts of charity are something that is part of the Dominical Tradition. Apostolic Tradition is called Divino Apostolic, when it was promulgated by the Apostles from the dictating of the Holy Ghost. In other words, Revelation did not end with Christ's death, but the death of the last Apostle, namely St. John. Therefore God continued revealing things to the Apostles. It would appear that the ordination of deacons is part of the Divino Apostolic Tradition.

Fr. Ripperger  9:10

Both of these kinds of Tradition proceed from God and therefore are irreformable, that is unchangeable. This is pretty big because many rejected St. Paul's writings, such as Martin Luther, you know, if it didn't fit his theology and that actually tells us something. This is why I keep saying, the standard of judgment isn't in us. It's outside of us. It's called the Magisterium. Martin Luther made himself the standard of judgment. So what’s he  going to do? Well, he's going to look at the Deposit of Faith and start rejecting it. Why? Because the standard isn't something external to him, it’s what’s internal to him. Of course if you know anything about his life, he was an interiorly tortured individual which is one of the last things (interior judgement) he should be trying to base his judgement on.

Fr. Ripperger  9:50

But even certain, quote, “Catholic” unquote, theologians are just saying, “Well, those are just St. Paul's teachings.” Well that's not true. Nothing makes it into Scripture, the Church formally defines that nothing makes itself into Scripture that doesn't have God as its author. So God is the author of these things through the particular individual and this is quite important.

Fr. Ripperger  10:11

The second kind of author is the Church and the Tradition coming from the Church is called Ecclesiastical Tradition. Ecclesiastical Tradition is divided into Humana Apostolic Tradition and Mere Ecclesiastical Tradition. Humana Apostolic Tradition are those traditions began by the Apostles which were not divinely revealed. So In other words, there were just certain things which the Apostles themselves started which God didn't tell them to do. This would include the precepts and those things instituted by the Apostles themselves, which are not based directly on the authority of God since they were not revealed. However they are promulgated indirectly under the authority of God insofar as the Apostles received their authority from God when promulgating things which are not part of divine revelation. For example, the Apostles promulgated in the various particular churches, and we may say, vary from church to church, certain things. In other words, they started different liturgies. Now, certain parts of the Liturgy are part of the Divino Apostolic Tradition or they are actually part of the Dominical Tradition. God said, “Do this in commemoration of me.” The Mysterium Fide, inserting the Mysterium Fide was considered part of, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, as part of the Divino Apostolic but Christ later told the Apostles it was to be inserted.

Fr. Ripperger  11:28

There other things in the liturgy, which are just started by the Apostles, not inspired by God, directly, but only indirectly in regards to receiving His authority. By various churches, we do not mean non Catholic churches since there's only one Church as we profess in the creed. Now the term Church here refers to the various rites within the one Church, for example, the Byzantine Rite, the Roman Rite, and things of this sort.  So we have different liturgies and these are different aspects of the Tradition that are passed on. Those things promulgated by the Apostles, which were not divinely revealed would be things such as laws regarding fasting in the days of Eastertide. Well it pertains to the natural law to abstain or to obtain the virtue of fasting as I have discussed in prior homilies. Which days we ought to fast can be set by the different rites within the Church. These traditions can be modified by the successors to the Apostles but normally should not because they can detract from the force of the Tradition if what is being passed on is always changing. In other words, that's one of the things that actually happened, because people couldn't make proper distinctions within the Tradition about what could and could not be changed as they started changing all the things that could be changed or making changes to many of the things that could be changed, what ended up happening was, the people got the impression that all of it is open to change. And so the actual things that are part of the unchanging Tradition, people started playing with those as well. So a word of caution should be made, the longer the Humana Apostolic Tradition, in other words, we're talking about that which was started by the Apostles, or even the Ecclesiastical Tradition for that matter, that is something that's merely ecclesiastical that is passed on merely by the Church without it coming from Apostles because it actually comes into being afterwards then even those things and how long they’ve been around determines the will of God regarding them. What does that mean?

Fr. Ripperger  13:33

Well it means this is: if there is a Tradition from the time of the Apostles... well it’s a pretty good idea that God wanted it around. And this is because of the fact that even when there are heresies that afflict the Church, the Tradition always over the course of time gets purged of them, eventually; either from judgements of the Church or what have you, or by God raising the Saints and things of this sort. So the longer something is in the Tradition, the more you have an idea that this is really what God wanted. If it’s from the time of Apostles, then it’s a pretty good idea. So The longer it is, the more manifest God's will is in having it around. Now by a long time we don’t just mean 40 or 50 years, we're talking centuries. Sometimes it takes centuries to purge this stuff. So just because something started doesn't necessarily mean that it's really ultimately the will of God. It doesn't mean that we can just be disobedient and ignore the Magisterium. That's quite the contrary.

Fr. Ripperger  14:28

As I mentioned, since the Magisterium is the norm for belief, we have certain obligations and relationship to it. We have an obligation to give religious assent to all of its teachings even if they're not De Fide. If they’re infallible we have an obligation to give absolute assent to them. Whereas the other ones (non De Fide) have to give religious assent, which means we have to look at them and unless there is a sufficiently grave reason to the contrary, which I'll talk about later, we have an obligation to follow them. So you can just go throwing things out right and left without making distinctions.

Fr. Ripperger  14:58

But it also means another thing, and this is something that you tend to see. I tell people that the neoconservatives and the sedevacantists  have the exact same operative principle. And that operative principle is that the Pope can do no wrong and by do no wrong we mean, not only just in the moral order or he has to be sinless, but also that he can never teach anything wrong. Well I’m sorry but that's heretical. The First Vatican Council made it very clear that under certain circumstances the Pope is infallible and his teaching is therefore irreformable and we must give absolute assent to it, otherwise we will not be saved. Period. Outside the conditions of that, we have no guarantee. Now, what we do have is an observation made subsequent that said, we have an obligation to give religious assent to those teachings unless again, there's a sufficient reason to the contrary. So What's this all mean?

Fr. Ripperger  15:57

The sedevacantists say, they’ll point at different things and say, “The Pope’s a heretic, a heretic.” Well first of all, how do you know his interior life? Heresy is an acclimation based upon obstinacy and that's a judgment of the guy’s will and you’re not in a position to make that judgment. Second, they'll say that, “Well he is teaching these things, which is contrary to this document, this document, and this document.” Okay. And then they (sedevacantists) say, “So he's not the Pope.” Well that’s just basing it on private judgment. That's pure private judgment. Where what we're supposed to believe is what’s proposed by the public authority of the Church, not according to our own interior private judgement about matters. This is no different than Protestantism. I mean that’s what they're doing, protesting the Pope. So that's where we are at.

Fr. Ripperger  16:45

But then of course there's the neoconservatives who say that, you know, “every sneeze should be written down on the same level as Scripture.” That’s nonsense. There's different levels, the pope himself, the Magisterium itself, the way the Vatican handles it is always different. What they talk about in allocutions is different to people if the level of requirement of assent to that is very different than when he makes a declaration, like Pius IX did about the Immaculate Conception. We’re talking about two entirely different orders. It doesn't mean that you just disregard it if it's on a lower level, but it does mean that we have to be clear that it could be subsequently clarified, and therefore straightened out. So what does all of this mean?

Fr. Ripperger  17:24

Well we have to have assurance, then  have hope that God will purge it, if there's any problems, or that God will purge it eventually. Our task is to remain faithful as the Church has always taught in the Tradition. But It doesn't mean we can just go around rejecting whatever the Magisterium says. Mere Ecclesiastical Tradition contains those things instituted  by the Church after the time of  the Apostles. Some are universal, such as the Lenten fast, whereas others are particular; for example, the local feasts. So there are certain things that came after the Apostles and those things can be changed, some of them except for declarations, some of the ecclesiastical Tradition are formal definitions of the Church and that type of thing and those can’t be changed. But some of those (ecclesiastical Tradition) can.

Fr. Ripperger  18:11

But then along came the Protestants and said they rejected all these things, saying they were just part of human tradition. And then later it gets developed where Sola Scriptura, scripture alone. I may have mentioned, well, you know, the real issue is not Tradition, it’s which Tradition you going to actually have. Why? Because when they say Sola Scriptura, the minute that they teach somebody else that, it is called tradition. The minute they pass the Bible to somebody else, that’s  an act of tradition. So when Protestants say we don't believe in tradition, they may not be disingenuous, they may not be lying, but they are at least ignorant of what they're doing. And So the real issue is not whether we’re going to have Tradition or not. It's a de facto fact that tradition is an integral part of the religious life as a Christian. That is just absolutely part of it. The issue is which tradition are we going to have? And so what’s that mean?

Fr. Ripperger  19:09

It means that as an individual, you not only have an obligation to give assent to the Tradition intellectually but that giving of assent is a volitional act which means morally we have obligations to that. It's a manifestation of a moral problem if people simply will not adhere to the Tradition as some kind of obstinacy or an unwillingness to do so. So what’s that mean about us? It means we have to be willing to die ourselves if we're truly going to adhere to the Tradition. It's not again what we think, it's what the Magisterium proposes as necessary for belief. It is the Rule of Faith, not us.

Fr. Ripperger  19:49

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

© 2019, Fr. Chad Ripperger - All Rights Reserved. 

© Sensus Traditionis 

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ON DIVINE TRADITION BY CARDINAL FRANZELIN WITH A FOREWORD BY FR. RIPPERGER AND TRANSLATED FROM THE LATIN BY RYAN GRANT

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The 3rd sermon on Sacred Tradition focuses on the Magisterium & how & what we are to believe.